Friday, March 22, 2013

Pick a card, any card (Life with #Autism)

So Ben doesn't talk a lot.  At school they'd been working with him using PECS (Picture Exchange Card System).  We had chosen not to go that route at home, but after the last IEP meeting, I just decided we needed to try them.  So I made some for food items and printed them out and taped them to the refrigerator with blue tape.

They worked well - he could go and pull down the one he wanted.  Sometimes so violently that they'd rip.  Other times, he'd crumple or chew on the paper, but overall, he'd give them to us and we'd give him the food.

But that was enough success.  Lori got on board, bought a laminator, some velcro and redid the cards and made a bunch more.  There's a small box on the counter by the computer that holds a bunch more and we can swap them in and out when we want to offer different things, or from time-to-time we'll add treat items to the right side and wait for him to notice.

From time-to-time we need to remake some cards because they do get mangled, but it's working really well.

Sometimes we'll forget to take down a card for an item we don't have and I feel really bad.  I don't think he understands and while he seems to move past it quickly, I hate that it's the system not working.  He told us what he wanted, we didn't provide.  When we give him items at a meal, we'll put the cards on the table so he can hand a card to us when he wants more of an item.  This also allows us to put less out so there's less of a mess, less food dropped on the floor or crumbs on the table.  At school they've also used a card that just says the word "more" and shows someone doing the sign for more.

So now we're (Lori mostly) working on new cards, cards to show schedule or a series of expected events or of play choices.  So cards for bath and toilet and listen to music and watch videos and the trampoline.  We'll place velcro on the wall at a few other key locations for the daily schedule/expectations/routine or for play options.  We'll also use cards to do matching exercises and color or parts-of-the-face identification.

Eventually you get to cards that say "I want " and then has the velcro which teaches sentence formation.  You'll find older non-verbal children and adults with binders full of cards where they can just flip to a page and point at what they want.

And then this is an area where technology is making even more possible.  Ben isn't there yet - he wants to keep pressing the home button and quit the program, but there are programs for tablets that show the pictures and allow you to form sentences or communicate.

We still hope that Ben will be able to communicate verbally, but sometimes there's just a mental block there and despite a strong desire to speak, the body does not cooperate and the child gets locked in.  Tools like these and now the electronic models are helping to bring people out of those locks.

I've also started making Ben help me with the laundry.  This means unloading the dryer and/or washer, and then loading the washer and/or dryer.  He does it, but he's not too happy about it.  He does like it when I lift him up to press the buttons to start the machines.  He was upset tonight that I wasn't having him start the dryer and he sometimes gets confused about whether we're putting stuff in or out.  And he's overall not too happy, I have to ask him for each handful he does.  But I think he's starting to understand this is something we now do.  

Another is cleaning up his toys.  Again, I have to point out each toy I want him to pick up and then ask him to "put in" or "put away."  He does alright until he finds a toy he'd rather play with, or until he gets frustrated with having to work, but again, I think consistency will be he key here.

We had a meeting yesterday with his teachers and the specialists from the district and they were excited to hear were were doing all this with Ben and offered us some card sets to take home.  I know Ben is an extreme case - the only one in the district receiving 1:1 assistance - but I suspect that any time you're dealing with special needs children that a good number of parents get overwhelmed or don't know what to do and it ends up falling to the schools to do all of the teaching/training.  We get overwhelmed a lot but we also know that anything we do will just potentially speed up the rate of any potential development.  

Plus I want help with the laundry and cleaning up his toys.

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